Our Travel Blog
Our first experience of many with Indian Railways started with our trip from New Delhi to New Jaipalguri.  Actually, with about 1.6 million employees throughout India, Indian Railways is the first employer in the world carrying over 12.5 million passengers everyday in 13000 trains!  Our train left New Delhi close to midnight on the 19th of January from the "Old" Delhi Railway station.  We took the second class sleeper compartment, "upper berth".  Each railway car is divided into several sections, each section containing 8 sleeping bunks - 3 on each side facing each other and 2 bunks on the aisle side of the section.  The upper berth simply refers to the upper bunk.  The two middle berths facing each other fold down during the day so that the passengers can sit.  The sections are open so that one can walk freely from one to the other to go, for example, to the toilets at the end of each railway car.  The train makes many stops, and is very frequently delayed for several hours.  At each stop, it seems that vendors climb aboard to sell anything from food to jewelry to books and sweets, socks, etc.  They will also sell things through the windows of the train while it is stopped at the stations, often running with the train as it departs in order to finish one last sale.  We spent two nights on the train before reaching New Jaipalguri (NJP) in West Bengal.  
From NJP, we walked to Siliguri, wearing our heavy back packs, from where we took a 2 1/2 hour jeep taxi up the winding, scenic roads to Darjeeling.  Darjeeling is a hill station in the state of West Bengal, situated in the north east part of India, at an elevation of more than 2000 m.  It used to be a place where the British would get away from the heat during the summer months.  It is now famous for its tea industry and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.  Within a short time after arrival we found a very cheap guest house (100Rs/night meaning some $2.2 USD) called Morning Dew where we ended up staying for one week.  The hot water which we used for bathing had to first be heated up by the single man staff, after which he carried it up to our room on the 3rd floor in two buckets.  Since this was the off season, it was very cool (6 Celsius degrees/43 Fahrenheit) when we arrived and the room had no heater for the first night.  We were given a heater to use only after inquiry from the second night onward attaining good levels of temperature hereafter (18 Celsius degrees/65 Fahrenheit) for the same price.  After a few days the clouds dissipated and the view was beautiful from our small balcony.  
Now we would like to dedicate a paragraph to Momos, popular in Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim and at the north of West Bengal, which became our staple (because it is non-spicy) food during our stay in Darjeeling.  Vegetable Momos are steamed dumplings containing predominantly cabbage, ginger and other finely diced vegetables and are always served with a watery soup.  The cheapest and best place to get Momos was in one of the very small, asian, mini restaurants tucked away in the market place, where they would make them downstairs and you could go upstairs to a dark area to sit at one of the four small tables to eat (it was 12Rs a plate of 6 Momos, meaning some $0.30 USD) .  By the end of our stay in Darjeeling, we can say that we had our fair share of Momos for quite awhile.
We took time to discover the busy market place and the surrounding beautiful scenery of the himalayan mountains and tea plantations.  We visited the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre which sells Tibetan crafts such as carpets, clothing, shawls, cards, traditional music instruments, etc. where Ivan had been during his previous visit to Darjeeling in 2002.  We were able to walk in the workshops among the mostly elderly Tibetans as they were making the carpets and other crafts all by hand.  On the sunny day of January 26th, we were sipping chai, seated among the crowd to behold the military marching bands and traditional dance performances by mostly children and youth for the Republic Day Celebration.  While the military guys were doing their very serious stuff, all the people by our side and us were very amused by a monkey invasion on the roof tops of the neighboring houses.  That was good fun !  We wanted to visit the zoo in Darjeeling, but after finding out that they charged foreigners an entrance fee 5 times greater than that for locals we declined.  When an Indian tourist comes to visit the Louvres Museum in France, is he asked to pay a different price because he is a foreigner ? It is a very odd way of treating foreign tourists... One evening we went to visit the Bahá'í Centre, now located in Ghoom which is the small town next to Darjeeling.
We left Darjeeling to go to NJP on the 27th of January via the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway "Toy Train", a slowly descending journey lasting over 9 hours through beautiful scenery... It runs on two railway tracks which are 60cm apart (some 2 feet), hence you can imagine that it is smaller than the average size passenger train.  We spent the night on the normal train and made it to Kolkata by the next morning.  We went across the big city again with our heavy backpacks, had a whole adventure trying to find a room for the night, finding it and being obliged to pay for it in advance, finding a ticket to go to Bangalore the same evening, trying to find someone else to use our room for the night because the manager of the hotel wouldn't give our money back, finding that person (a Korean guy) and finally, leaving !  Indian Railway Stations really teem with people !  You wouldn't believe it !  The next night and following day were spent on the train to go to Chennai, from where we caught another overnight train to go to Bangalore.  Three nights later we arrived in Bangalore.  
To see the monkey invasion video, click here !  To see the video of the ants invading the Kolkata Railway Station, click here !  To see our pictures of Darjeeling, click here.  Enjoy !!
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Darjeeling, Kolkata... to Bangalore !

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